Harry Anthony, a soft-spoken man from Mineral, has been living in a dilapidated house, with caving-in floors and a partially collapsed roof, for over 25 years. Now, thanks to some help from people who know Harry and the conditions he’s living in, a local group is stepping up to help him improve his housing and his life.
Anthony has lived for over 25 years in the house his mother left him in the 1970s. He says he never married and never had kids; it’s always been him and his dog, Sammy. After years of long hours and meager wages as a farm worker, the house had fallen into a state of disrepair that only worsened over time. More recently, living on a fixed income, Anthony’s options for building a new home on his own were non-existent.
With conditions to the point that residing in the house is no longer an option, Louisa County’s Habitat for Humanity chapter has found a design that can be built quickly and inexpensively, and help serve as a prototype as the group moves forward in its fight against the housing crisis.
Susan Goetz, chapter director, says that combating the level of both substandard housing and homelessness that exist in the area means thinking outside the box.
“I wouldn’t be afraid to use the term ‘crisis,’” Goetz said. “We’re seeing a lot of people’s homes, especially with the elderly and disabled who can’t keep up with the maintenance, falling into disrepair.”
The current project is a 416-square-foot, two-room home, with a 100-square-foot front porch. The design is similar to the trendy “Tiny Homes” seen on television and in Home and Garden magazines, where minimalist features are coupled with lower material needs to save money, reduce waste, and shorten construction times. The estimated building time, Goetz said, depends largely on volunteer amounts and is somewhat weather-dependent.
Ron Bricker, who serves on the board for Habitat for Humanity in Louisa, says that an influx of “new blood” into the organization is helping them take a look at how they do things, so as to improve how many people the organization can help with their limited financial and human resources.
“We’ve been taking a more strategic approach to what we’re doing,” Bricker said. “And addressing output to try and help more people in the future.”
To do this, both Goetz and Bricker say that they need volunteers.
“Our organization relies on volunteers, both skilled and unskilled,” Goetz said. “We use local craftsmen and skilled laborers to help build, we use people with knowledge in networking and communications to help get the word out there… none of this would be possible without a lot of great volunteers who work really hard.”
Goetz is quick to dismiss the notion that Habitat for Humanity simply gives people houses.
“This is a hand up, not a hand-out,” she said. “It’s work equity, or as we like to call it, ‘sweat equity.’ Our applicants put in 100 hours of volunteer work just to have their application considered. Then we keep them involved as their project is being completed… Even the people who aren’t able to perform manual labor are answering phones and helping out in the office.”
Volunteers have come from large businesses as well as local contractors and tradespeople. The need for volunteers, however, is a constant one.
“Our goal is to have Harry in his new home six weeks after demolition,” Goetz said. “But we need a lot of volunteers if we’re going to do that. Contractors, painters… even people who don’t have a background in construction but who are willing to work.”
Friends of Anthony say that the charity couldn’t go to a better man.
Steve Harris, a local attorney who has known Anthony for “many, many years,” said that it bothered him to see such a good, selfless man living in such poor conditions.
“Harry’s a good man, and a giving man, but he’s had a hard life… I hated to see him living like that,” Harris said. “His roof had caved in. His floors had fallen out. Bugs and rats were everywhere because it’s all open. It’s deplorable. I mean, no human being should have to live like that.”
When the topic of his new home comes up, Anthony’s eyes go wide and a weathered smile shoots across his face. He’s quick to talk about his new accommodations and how excited he is. He said the thing that he is looking forward to the most, after years of trying to keep warm in his dilapidated shack with kerosene heaters, is central air.
“I can’t wait to be in it,” he said. “It’s gonna have heat… Man, I like that.”
Those interested in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity can go online to www.hfhlouisa.org, or can call (540) 967-0486.